News - 2019 Commencement Ceremony Honors Outstanding Faculty, Students

2019 Commencement Ceremony Honors Outstanding Faculty, Students

by Rachel Heston-Davis 2019 Commencement Ceremony Honors Outstanding Faculty, Students

At Greenville University’s 2019 Commencement ceremony, G.U. President Ivan Filby and VP for Academic Affairs Brian Hartley honored several individuals whose achievements and faith in Christ set them apart. Awards included the Outstanding Faculty Award, President’s Citation, President’s Award for Character and Service and the granting of an honorary degree.

Frank Watson Earns Honorary Doctorate 

Filby bestowed an honorary doctorate of law to the Honorable Frank Watson, former Illinois State Senate Minority Leader.

Watson served in the Illinois State Senate from 1983 to 1999, after four years in the Illinois House of Representatives. While in the Senate, he championed school reform measures to improve the quality of public education in Illinois. He increased state funding for public education and sponsored tuition assistance programs to help make higher education more affordable.

Watson also fought for legislation to improve rural health care, improve transportation, clean up contaminated industrial sites and reduce state mandates on local government.

A lifelong resident of Greenville, Watson graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s in pharmacy. He brought his skills and expertise home to operate his family’s century-old business, Watson’s Drug Store, which continues to enrich the local economy.

He modeled community involvement as a member of the Greenville Jaycees, several local area chambers of commerce and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. He continues to live in Greenville with his wife Susan, a former member of the Greenville College Board of Trustees.

Miriam Porter Named Outstanding Faculty

Professor Miriam Angela Porter, instructor of music and coordinator of vocal studies in the Department of Music, accepted this year’s W. Richard Stephens Outstanding Faculty Award.

Award winners exhibit passion for their disciplines; have strong connections with students and expect excellence from them; integrate faith with learning; demonstrate a strong Christian commitment; and remain active in personal scholarship. 

Porter has performed and toured as a vocalist and a session singer for a variety of projects. She is well-versed in many musical genres, both contemporary and classical.

Porter expresses her deep Christian faith in part through her service as a worship leader and worship arts team member.

Porter taught at Greenville University (then Greenville College) as an assistant professor early in her career after completing a master’s degree in choral conducting from the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. She returned to the G.U. faculty in 2016.

Hartley said of Porter, “Her commitment to Christ remains at the center of her life and I can witness that she seeks to live this out in very concrete and tangible ways. The modeling she does for our students, particularly for those in our gospel choir, sets the standard for all of our faculty.”

Students Recognized for Exceptional Faith and Achievement

Sophie Yaunches of Breese, Illinois, received this year’s President’s Citation from G.U. Sophie double-majored in international and cross-cultural studies and Spanish, graduated with a 3.96 GPA and successfully defended her senior honors thesis, “La Nueva Religion Estadounidense: El Nacionalismo y sus Effectivos en la Unidad Nacional.”

“From the moment she walked onto our campus, Sophie has stood out among her peers,” Hartley said.

Sophie’s CRE supervisor in Hood Hall, Johnny Hinton, described Sophie as someone who “possesses the ability to light up a room.” In written remarks at the ceremony, Hinton praised Sophie’s service, selflessness and care for others.

Sophie participated in a semester abroad in Nicaragua, which left her with “a deep thirst for knowledge concerning culture and social justice that could only be quenched through her continuous exploration of the world,” Hinton added. 

Marlene Saravia of Antigua, Guatemala, accepted this year’s President’s Award for Character and Service, which recognizes a graduating senior who demonstrates dedication to a life of Christian character and service. Marlene majored in worship arts at G.U. and utilized her gift for leading worship during chapel and other campus events. She also served in G.U.’s Residence Life program.

Naomi Brown, one of Marlene’s mentors and supervisors in Residence Life, said, “Marlene is a treasure. She is one of the best examples of character I have ever seen in a student. If you were to ask our student body who among their peers exemplifies Christ-like virtue, Marlene's name would come up again and again.”

Brown mentioned Marlene’s openness to befriending and understanding anyone who crosses her path. This proved an invaluable skill as Marlene connected with various students through her Residence Life role.


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Sophie and Marlene are the grateful recipients of donor-funded scholarships. Thank you for bringing talented students to G.U. with your gift.

This story was published on May 27, 2019

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